Trump pushes Congress to privatize air traffic control

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump urges Congress to privatize the air traffic control system and switch to a nonprofit organization that does not need taxpayer funding.
  • Some Republicans have long supported the move, but critics say it could give airlines too much influence.
  • Trump criticizes the FAA's efforts to modernize air traffic control.
Trump: New plan would privatize air traffic control
Trump: New plan would privatize air traffic control

President Donald Trump on Monday urged Congress to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system, saying it would make U.S. airports more efficient.

At a White House event attended by GOP lawmakers, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and airline industry representatives, Trump signed a letter sending his legislative priorities to Congress. The event was largely symbolic, as lawmakers need to pass a plan before Trump can sign it into law.

The push to privatize air traffic control, largely supported by U.S. airlines and long backed by some congressional Republicans, would separate the function from the Federal Aviation Administration. In his remarks, Trump said he seeks to set up a "self-financing, nonprofit organization" that will not need taxpayer money to function.

"If we adopt these changes, Americans can look forward to cheaper, faster and safer travel," Trump said.

The complex FAA air traffic control system oversees about 50,000 flights in the U.S. per day and is considered one of the safest in the world. However, it has faced criticism over the pace of its transition from radar systems to satellite and digital operations.

Trump: Air traffic control system is broken
Trump: Air traffic control system is broken

The FAA has contended it is making progress on improving air traffic control technology but has faced difficulties with securing consistent funding from Congress.

Trump argued that the change would speed up efforts to modernize air traffic control, which he said the FAA has failed to do quickly enough. He contended that the move would make travel routes more efficient and reduce delays that travelers see at airports.

Chao told CNBC later Monday that the air traffic control privatization would be a "cornerstone initiative" of the Trump administration's broader goal of overhauling U.S. infrastructure. She said that the independent organization "will be free from all these government regulations" that "slow down" the adoption of new technology.

Republican House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania and some of his colleagues have long supported privatizing air traffic control. Some critics worry it would give airlines — which have lobbied for the move — too much control over the process.

Trump is calling for an independent nonprofit phased in over three years, according to a fact sheet distributed to reporters. The organization would be financed through user fees rather than tax money.

It is not clear whether congressional Democrats — who have backed infrastructure reform efforts — will support the measure.

The speech is part of a series of events this week in which Trump aims to highlight his plans to revamp America's roads, bridges and airports. The White House has appeared to make slow progress toward its infrastructure goals as health-care and tax-reform plans move less quickly than Trump anticipated and scandals build up around Trump.

Chao told CNBC that other parts of the Trump administration's broader infrastructure proposal will be unveiled throughout the week. The White House wants $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over a decade, with $200 billion in public spending supplemented by private funding.

Speaking at an automotive conference in Detroit on Monday, Chao said the Department of Transportation will update its autonomous vehicle guidelines in the coming months.

— The AP contributed to this report

Watch: Sec. Chao discusses Trump's air traffic plan

Secretary Chao: We are addressing technological advances in air traffic plan
Secretary Chao: We are addressing technological advances in air traffic plan